There’s no denying it. Work has become more fast-paced, competitive, and let’s face it – even more stressful (even an exclamation mark gives me anxiety!). Well, you can blame it on technology – for the most part anyway. Technology presents us with incredible opportunities and conveniences. At the same time, psychologists and behavioural experts warn us about hidden dangers. Constant connectivity or digital overload can cause the brain to remain in a hyper alert mode, and it is difficult to “switch off”.
Add to this, the COVID-19 pandemic which has shaped a year of our lives and continue to do so. Working from home, too many online meetings, and non-stop notifications are causing feelings of grief, anxiety and stress. Work demands that we always perform our best, stay focused and productive. How can we reduce stress, promote wellbeing, and increase productivity in the workplace and in our lives?
Enter mindfulness. From a personal perspective, mindfulness is not new, but practising mindfulness in the workplace is getting a lot of attention. What is mindfulness you ask? To quote the Mayo Clinic, “Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress”.
Mindfulness is not just for employees. Management can benefit from building a meditation practice to develop a greater sense of awareness, clarity, compassion and empathy. A thoughtful leader is one who is able to lead the company with those same qualities, and this, in turn, will lead to an upturn in productivity and a downturn in stress-related illnesses. Everyone is a winner when the work culture embraces mindfulness.
Being more mindful at work
Whether you are an employer or employee, meditating at work is a great way to ground yourself and get a short break in the midst of a chaotic workday. Think of this, if you will, as the opportunity to take a step back and reset. Not feeling it? Well, there are other ways to practise mindfulness in the workplace.
For many, the average workday is spent dealing with constant deadlines and distractions, all at the same time. While some excel at multitasking and thrive under pressure, others become less productive. Being mindful at work, i.e. being fully present and focused on the task at hand, free from distractions or judgment, and with an open mind, can be beneficial and transformative. By training ourselves to be more present at work through mindfulness, we can learn to take care of one thing at a time. Breaking down task by task allows us the space to be more attentive, aware, productive and less reactive.
Strategies to practise mindfulness
Breathe: A simple breathing exercise can have a positive impact on your state of mind. It is one of the easiest ways to practise mindfulness at work. Whenever you feel stressed during the workday, take a minute to focus on your breathing. Inhale, exhale, and you will feel yourself starting to relax.
Take short breaks: How often have you heard some people say they have no time for a break? Research show that the brain naturally works in high activity for about an hour and switches to low activity for a short period of time. Use this time to take a mindful break. Make it a part of your regular work routine. Set a timer on your phone to buzz you every hour and take a break. Whether to do a breathing exercise or stretch at your desk for a minute or two – you will find that this can impact positively on your wellbeing. If you can, take a short walk outside to clear your headspace. Regular breaks can be effective and rejuvenating.
Tech pause: Many of us don’t realize that we can control our notifications, settings, and reminders. Don’t be a slave to technology. The average mobile device user has more than 85 apps and uses nearly 50 each month. You probably don’t need all! Deleting or putting to sleep half the apps on your phone can reduce the number of unnecessary notifications you receive, and you’ll spend less time swiping to find what you need. For emails and push notifications, change the settings for notifications for specific periods of time (unless you’re expecting something urgent. This allows you to enjoy the benefits of uninterrupted work time without feeling like you’re lagging behind.
Active listening: It’s only natural to be thinking about what you want to say while someone else is talking. When you notice that you’re doing this, slow down, breathe, and slowly redirect your thoughts back to what the speaker is saying. Listen carefully with a receptive attitude. You’ll benefit from learning to quieten the internal chatter in your head and create space to process what your boss/co-worker is trying to say.
Unwind mindfully: It’s important to unplug at the end of the work day and set boundaries, so you can truly be present at home. I take advantage of the time spent commuting to and from work by listening to “happy” music on the phone. If music is noise in your head, take this time to focus on your breathing. If work issues continue to swirl in your mind, simply acknowledge them and let go. By being present in the moment, you allow yourself to have a better experience and feel more fulfilled
Tip: It’s not uncommon for mindfulness to take a turn when things are hectic. When you get frustrated or start getting anxious about what to do next – just take a deep breath and keep practising.